(This post has full spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones.)
Kristian Nairn left Game of Thrones the same way he came in: saying the name of his character, Hodor – or, as we learned later, the nickname of the stable boy once known as Wyllis. Hodor’s death scene, cross-cut with the moment when Wyllis lost the ability to say any other word but “Hodor,” instantly became one of the series’ most iconic moments, and an amazing send-off for one of the show’s least experienced actors.
Earlier today, I spoke with Nairn about learning Hodor’s fate, how he learned to convey so many different feelings through the use of only one word, whether fans of his day job as a DJ are also Hodor fans, and more.
You’re in a relatively unusual position among the actors who’ve been on the show since the beginning, since you had a big death scene that you couldn’t read in advance from the books. What was it like when you got the call from David and Dan that Hodor wasn’t going to make it?
Kristian Nairn: I actually heard it first from another member of cast. We all get our scripts at different times. We do talk amongst each other. We’re like old women. We like to gossip. I remember asking a friend, jokingly, “Do I die in this season?” I just got this look back, and I was like, “What? Really?” They couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. But soon after, I got the call from David and Dan. It’s strange, man. It’s almost like the bell tolling. It’s quite funereal in a way. They talked me through it. David and Dan know how much I love the character, they know I love Hodor, and they were concerned I got a good send-off. They said, “It’s going to be one of the send-offs – if not the send-off – of the season.” Who knows what else they have in store? But I’m not disappointed.
That was instantly one of the greatest Game of Thrones scenes of all time, so you definitely went out well.
Kristian Nairn: I mean, it was just such a mixture of things being tied up from history, excitement happening in the present, and tragedy. And what more can you ask?
You were there for filming only the adult Hodor part of it, not for young Wyllis turning into Hodor. What was it like when you watched the finished product?
Kristian Nairn: Oh, it was crazy. Whoever cast Sam (Coleman) as Hodor, that’s crazily good casting. He did an amazing job. I made sure that he got credit on Twitter and stuff. It’s not easy to act what another actor does. I was just blown away. Winterfell strangely feels like home to me. I got a bit misty-eyed to see the old square at Winterfell, that’s always gonna have a special place in my memory.
Acting isn’t the primary thing you do, and you’ve been playing a character who, for the run of the show, says only one word but has to convey a lot of things with that word. As a relatively inexperienced actor, was it easier or harder to have to say so many things just with “Hodor”?
Kristian Nairn: I think that’s probably why they picked me for this part. I did have to demonstrate before I was accepted for the part how I could react in 20 or 30 different ways to different situations without any words. Also, the fact that I, to make a long story short, had hearing difficulties when I was a child, I always had to learn how to read people and their facial expressions and go off physical cues. Luckily, my hearing’s fine now, but I did study to be a sign language interpreter. That’s all in Hodor for me. It’s just how to use your body almost as an avatar for what you’re saying. You’re representing what you’re saying with your body as well. And also such a huge part of your body is listening, reacting to what other people are doing. Being hearing impaired is also a huge part of that.
Okay, so to pick a specific “Hodor” as an example, the moment where Sam recognizes Hodor, and Hodor is delighted to realize that someone knows who he is, what were you doing to distinguish that “Hodor” from the others?
Kristian Nairn: It’s as simple as “Don’t act.” I was thinking, “I am Hodor, in this horrible dark room, and for the first time in six months, I’ve met someone who’s cheerful and friendly and I can relate to a little bit, and he just gave me a massive compliment.” It’s easy to play that part and just forget that you’re acting and be that person.
I’ve talked with Isaac (Hempstead-Wright) in the past, and he talked about how it had become more difficult to carry you as the seasons went on. Was it nice that, during your time this season, Bran was mainly just lying on the floor so you didn’t have to do much lifting?
Kristian Nairn: YES! That’s a very short answer to that, in capital letters. He is massively big now. It’s not only the physical thing. It looks ridiculous, too. He’s about 6′ tall, and looks like he sings for Oasis. He’s not that little Bran of Winterfell anymore. He’s an NBA player, man.
As a character known for only saying one word, you have a unique place not only in the history of this one show, but really in the history of TV. That’s special.
Kristian Nairn: It is special. I’m so pleased. I’m proud of the show. I’m proud of what everyone does on the show. I’m proud of Hodor. I’m proud of all my castmates, and what we’ve made of it. I never expected it to be this popular. David and Dan said, “We’re giving you this character, and he’s going to be hugely popular. He’s going to be one of the main memes of the show.” I didn’t believe ’em, to be honest. I was, like, “Really?” But here we are. It seems to have come true.
Was there a moment earlier in the run of the show where an encounter in public allowed you to truly appreciate the depths of the love for Hodor?
Kristian Nairn: I think it was after season 1. I went to San Diego Comic-Con, and I wasn’t on the panel, but I was sitting in a reserved area in the crowd, and George (R.R. Martin) gave me a shout-out on stage and made me stand up. Hall H, all six thousand people, it was just overwhelming, man. It was like The Walking Dead, all those people started moving slowly towards me, and we had to get out of there. It turned into a situation. That was the first day I felt it. That changed my perception of it all.
Is there much crossover with Game of Thrones fandom when you’re doing your DJ gigs?
Kristian Nairn: Oh, yeah. Basically, every time before I go on stage, you will hear the chants of “Hodor!” Which I love, but there’s only one time I felt a bit embarrassed. I did a music festival in France. I’m not going to name names, but there were bigger bands and DJs on before me, and thoughout their set, all I could hear them chanting was “Hodor!” And I was, like, “Oh, please stop! It’s so disrespectful to the other acts!” In a way, obviously, I loved it, but it was kind of embarrassing at the same time. They were really not happy.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org